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Paying for video from above

Satellite television grows through recession on demand from emerging nations.

A family sits in front of their house, with a satellite dish on the roof, at the settlement of Ak-Tyuz, 81 miles east of the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, July 2, 2008. (Vladimir Pirogov/Reuters)

SAN FRANCISCO — The world may be mired in recession but people still seem willing to pay for television.

The latest evidence comes from the direct-to-home satellite broadcast industry, which began as a competitor to cable television in North America and Europe and is now widely available in emerging nations. Growing middle classes in these countries are driving the demand for television beamed directly from orbit.

Fifty-three percent of satellite capacity is now purchased by subscribers in regions like Central Europe, Latin America, Africa and large parts of Asia, where terrestrial broadcast or cable television may be nonexistent. Emerging nations represented 70 percent of the growth in demand for satellite television last year, a trend that is expected to continue, according to Euroconsult, a Paris-based market research firm that tracks the satellite television industry.

“You are now seeing satellite television in places like India, Romania, Kazakhstan and Nigeria,” said Rachel Villain, a Euroconsult analyst. Only a few nations, like Iran and North Korea, prohibit direct-to-home broadcast, while in a handful of others, notably China, state-controlled television systems have not yet offered it. “Satellite television is now available and affordable almost everywhere,” Villain said.

Satellite broadcasting benefits from several trends that continue to make television the world's favorite diversion despite competition from newer media like the internet, said Derrick de Kerckhove, director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto.

“Television remains what I call the collective imagination,” said de Kerckhove, whose program traces its roots to media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who popularized the notion of the global village.

“It is the most popular and prevalent way for people to identify as members of some community,” he said, adding that satellite television is one way the medium has adapted to find new audiences.

He said direct satellite broadcast is obviously ideal for reaching people in remote parts of the global village. Less obvious, perhaps, is the fact that direct-to-home broadcast is also a good way to deliver specialized programming to members of ethnic and linguistic minorities who are scattered throughout Europe and North America.

“We now have huge immigrant populations in the developed nations who tune in to satellite TV channels from their native countries as a way to reinforce their cultural identities,” de Kerckhove said.